So, for the last three years, I have taken Teen and Tween to the same place. It's a campsite in South Wales. A really special place, with only five pitches for tents, and four yurts. Each pitch has a covered kitchen area - better equipped that my kitchen at home - and a place for a camp fire.
|Our camp kitchen|
The owners of the campsite have become friends. From the start, they were welcoming and warm, never asked about my personal situation, but always ready to help. As bushcraft experts, they encouraged my boys to have a go at fire building, den-making and knife work, while I looked on with half a brain's interest - the other half wondering how the eff I was going to make dinner without a grill.
Both boys loved making fires. At first, I was concerned that I had raised two startlingly large pyromaniacs, but no - they weren't interested in watching the fire, necessarily; it was more about building the fire structure properly, and the challenge of lighting it without firelighters. Sitting around a campfire in the dark is magical. We made popcorn on a makeshift grill thing. We told stories. And of course, we toasted many, many marshmallows.
|Our roaring campfire|
This year, we ordered a lobster from the owner's son, who worked with a fisherman some mornings. I'd never had lobster before; it's bloody expensive (£16 for a smallish one) and I'd heard it was fiddly to eat; in previous years a ridiculous luxury I couldn't afford. This year - it was still a ridiculous luxury I couldn't afford, but I ordered one anyway. Bollocks to it.
Lobster evening came. I left the boys constructing the Jenga fire, and went to collect the little fella. He was brought out of his tank, and cleanly 'dispatched' outside the toilet block (that's a knife through the head to you and me), goggle-eyed children (and adults) stopping to stare. I'm a meat eater, and I think it's important to know where our food comes from - but even I was a bit squeamish when his legs and claws were still pumping even after he'd been sliced in two.
We cooked it on the campfire (claws still opening and shutting) and, after ten minutes, we sat down to our king's feast.
After a lot of fannying about with nutcrackers and some resorting to the blunt end of the axe, I reckon we got less than a sausage amount of meat from the poor creature. It was a good job I'd cooked A LOT of potatoes. And I wondered to myself - is it all a bit 'Emperor's New Clothes'? I mean, it was tasty and all, but I'd have just as soon as had a couple of Gregg's sausage rolls for a fraction of the price.
|Me, basking the Welsh sunshine on the beach|
Anyway, we can now say that we've eaten - and cooked - lobster. And the experience - from live animal to meat in our stomachs in thirty minutes - was very Bear Grylls. Eye opening too, and probably more so to me (a product of Findus Crispy Pancakes and Lean Cuisine) than to the boys.
But it's not all campfires and carnivores. The site is close to White Sands - a beautiful bay near St David's, where surf is almost always 'up'. The boys love it, so I don my South Wales Summer Weather Gear, and watch with extreme trepidation, occasionally shrieking at them to stay in their depth.
One of these days, the stress of wrapping them in cotton wool is going to kill me.
And talking of stress, we did have an 'incident' this year which almost pushed my heart out of its ribcage. The boys had hooked up with some other (lovely) children and were playing Kick the Can in the dark one night. (Kick the Can is a bit like Ackee 1, 2, 3 to all those 80's parents. Ackee 1, 2, 3 is a bit like Hide and Seek to everyone else.) Anyway, stones were thrown as decoys and one hit Teen just above the eye. Tween ran down to our yurt with the line, "MUM! J IS BLEEDING AND WE CAN'T STOP IT!"
Cue abandonment of everything sane and start running in vague direction of bleeding son, in total darkness, without a torch.
|Head injury info in Welsh, anyone?|
What followed was a blur of loveliness from the adults ('are you on your own?' 'let me phone the hospital' 'I'll come with you') and a five hour wait in Haverfordwest A&E department. At 4.30am, after a ten minute gluing-together session, Teen, Tween, a lovely lady called Alice who I'd met 6 hours before, and me, drove back through the misty darkness together with the window open to keep me awake.
Although the weight of responsibility is sometimes crippling when you're a loan parent, when the shit hits the fan, people will help you. And you don't have to ask; there are good people out there - total strangers - who will see that you're struggling and will gladly offer what they can. So don't let that fear cripple you, as it sometimes does to me. Have faith that it will be ok. Because it will.
I booked an afternoon's kayaking. As Tween is twelve, I had to do it, too. And I was dreading it. What if I fell in and couldn't get back in the boat? What if I crashed into the rocks and died? What if? What if?
What a tit. Honestly - I had the best time. And actually, as the boys had been kayaking in sodding Turkey with my ex two weeks before (unbeknownst to be until afterwards), I think I enjoyed it more than them. I felt powerful, and in control. Mostly. We kayaked through gulleys and into caves. The sky was blue and the sea was azure. I loved it. In fact, I loved it so much that I was unconsciously and loudly whooping, and making Tween in particular horribly embarrassed. He wouldn't talk to me for a while which upset me for a bit.
And then I thought, 'fuck it'. And whooped some more.
I've already booked for next year.